There is nothing more practical than a great theory – discuss!

I am getting some very welcome feedback about the practical nature of my new book The High Performance Customer Insight Professional: How to make sense of the evidence, build the story and turn insights into action, which is now available on Amazon. This is reassuring because this book was specifically written to be a practical step-by-step guide for insight professionals wanting to develop the craft of sensemaking, storytelling and operating as business consultants. In contrast, my last book was written in the era where there was more emphasis on providing the theoretical and academic underpinnings for different ideas.

However, in preparing the new book, I was mindful of the importance of striking the right balance between providing practical tips, whilst also not losing sight of the power of the fundamental theories, concepts and principles that are valuable to us.

In education, historically there has been a tendency to separate out theoretical and practical skills. Fast forward several decades and we now realise that this was an artificial division. Today, we recognise that success usually requires a mix of theory and practice. A carpenter does not simply conjure up a dove-tailed joint in a practical way, their skilled craftsmanship is also based on a theoretical understanding of how to prepare such a work of art.

Let’s take the example of the customer insight professional who needs to master the art of understanding what social media is telling us about today’s culture and society. They should not simply jump to superficial top-line summaries of what is being said but they need to understand these outputs in the context of what we know about the theory of social cognition.

We have always known that attitudes are a function of an individual’s own beliefs and knowledge, coupled with their perception of what other people think about their views. And today the expert customer insight professional will know how this social cognition process is playing out in a new communications era. Today, feedback about what other people think comes instantaneously from thousands of sources rather than – as was the case in the past – from a smaller number of people over a period of time.

Thus, the experienced practitioner will know the theory and practice of how attitudes are formed and may change in order to provide an informed picture of what is happening.

I hope that, in The High Performance Customer Insight Professional, I have struck the right tone between having sufficient theoretical rigour whilst also providing a practical book that is full of actionable substance.

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